Losing some degree of hearing as you age is perfectly normal, as the body becomes less efficient at protecting and repairing cells, including the tiny hair cells in your ears.
These hairs are capable of detecting sound wave vibrations and translating them into nerve impulses that the brain can interpret as sound. When the hairs become damaged due to the affects of aging or an underlying condition then your ability to pick up sound in certain frequencies may be diminished. While not all cases of age-related hearing loss are caused by the same factors, there are some common symptoms.
The following are the top 5 symptoms of age-related hearing loss:
1. Loud or Distorted Sounds
While it may seem as though hearing loss would result in a decrease in the overall volume of all sound this is usually not the case. Typically an individual will experience a loss in a specific frequency, whether it be high or low, or both. Meaning you may find it hard to hear high-pitched sounds or low bass initially. As hearing loss progresses however the mid-ranges can become affected as well. When your hearing is deficient in a specific frequency, sounds in that frequency may sound loud and distorted because your brain isn’t getting a clear sound profile from the hair cells in the inner ear.
2. Difficulty Distinguishing Hissing Sounds, Whispering, or High-Pitched Tones
Usually hearing loss will start in the higher frequencies, and when this occurs you may find it harder to hear hisses, whispering, or high-pitched scratches or screeches. You may also have trouble distinguishing the “S” sound from the “TH” sound in English speech, so you may for example mishear words like “the” or “she”. You may also find it difficult to understand the starting or stopping points in speech, as these points are usually spoken in lower volume as the voice tapers off and the vocal chords retract.
3. Hearing Ringing, Buzzing, or Humming in Your Ears (Tinnitus)
Another early sign of hearing loss that often goes overlooked until it becomes an annoyance is tinnitus, a symptom that can be described as hearing a ringing, humming, buzzing, hissing, or chirping sound in your ears even when there is no sound present. In fact, this sound usually seems to be the loudest and most noticeable when you’re in a completely quiet room (i.e. – before going to sleep at night). Tinnitus can take many different forms and it is unique in each individual. Some describe it as a low hum that sounds like a generator in the distance, while others hear a high-pitched constant ring. Most people experience different variations of tinnitus at different times. Tinnitus is a sign that the mechanics in your ear are not working properly and there is some type of feedback be created as a result.
4. Mumbled or Slurred Voices
Hearing loss can make it difficult to comprehend speech because people tend to speak in varying volume levels and the quiet points can be misheard or inadvertently ignored altogether. If you’ve been noticing that you’re experiencing miscommunications during conversation more often you may want to consider having a hearing test done. The mumbling or slurring may be more pronounced when more than one person is speaking at the same time.
5. Difficulty Understanding Speech in Loud Areas
If you have a hard time understanding public speakers or engaging in conversations in restaurants or cafeterias while others around you seem to have no trouble hearing then you may be seeing the beginning signs of age-related hearing loss. Obviously a visit to the audiologist’s office is warranted, but in the meantime here is a tip for understanding speech better in noisy environments: try cupping your ears towards the speaker you’re trying to focus on – it will capture the sound waves coming from that direction while blocking out surrounding noise that is making it harder for your brain to distinguish the subtleties of speech.
If you’ve experienced any of the above symptoms and suspect that you could be suffering from age-related hearing loss it is imperative to have a hearing test done at an audiologist’s office as soon as possible. While most causes of age-related hearing loss are not a cause for concern, in some cases there are underlying conditions that could present serious secondary risks if left untreated.